Hot Docs 2013 Review: TALES FROM THE ORGAN TRADE Is Wonderfully Nuanced

Jason Gorber, Featured Critic
Far too often "issue" films play out as mere polemics, dogmatically reemphasizing a given point of view to a receptive audience. I often find these type of films dreary and intellectually barren, a lazy form of near propaganda that does little to engage with the subject matter at hand.

There are those films, however, that manage with the constraints of a theatrical running time to genuinely shed some fractive light on a subject, illuminating not just the obvious, but the various shades of colour that a given subject represents. Ric Esther Bienstock has crafted such a rare gem of a film.

Narrated by David Cronenberg in delightfully laconic drawl, this documentary tells of the the many sides of the Organ Trafficking debate. We travel to the slums of Phillipines, seeing men so poor they're living beneath another's shack, the ceiling too low to even stand up. Raising a children amongst filth and open sewers, the change to give up a redundant organ for cash is too good to pass up.

We visit Israel, where an unrepentant Nephrologist talks passionately about how he saves lives. We meet people on a donor list that have been waiting patiently for years for a lottery-like chance to the top of the list. We see daughters wrestling with whether to help ailing fathers, and strangers willing to make the same sacrifice. From international crime tribunals to a spare room in Moldova, the film's international scope underscores the complexity of the story it tells.

By tracing these various paths, and tenaciously tracking down a wide variety of participants, Beinstock is able to allow the audience a real insight into this topic. Forming a kind of James Bond-like travelogue, the doc unfolds in both dramatically and intellectually interesting ways. Funded by television broadcasters including HBO, it nonetheless plays out with the drama and scope of any theatrical feature, and is well worth seeing on the big screen.

The film also does a great job in allowing the participants time to make their case, balancing an effective representation of their beliefs without having them run on. There's some astonishingly frank comments captured with the interviews, demonstrating both the capabilities of the interviewee to elicit the comments, and the dexterity of editing that allows it all to flow without becoming repetitive.

This is an organ trafficking movie with heart, but it never wears it on its sleeve. It is not free from presenting an opinion, yet not shy from showing alternative points of view. It digs through the statistics and headline grabbing stories and traces back to the core of this complex issue, all while proving to be briskly entertaining.

Tales From The Organ Trade is a tale well told, certainly one of the highlights of this year's Hot Docs festival.
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